When Alec was about five years old his mother died in childbirth. He told the Commissioner, ‘My father became a skid row alcoholic, so all of the children were initially farmed out to aunties and various places, then somebody had the bright idea of putting us into orphanages’.
So, in the early 1960s, Alec ended up at a South Australian children’s home run by Catholic nuns. ‘Some of them were good, some of them were bad and some of them were pretty awful.’ Two of the nuns were ‘pathologically violent’ and inflicted brutal punishments on the kids.
The nuns were also neglectful. When Alec was 10 they told him he would get to spend his Christmas holidays at the coast with a family. When the day came, he waited for the family to arrive.
‘Then this guy turns up and says that he’s come to pick me up. Now, I was expecting sort of a family to turn up in a car … and then this guy is introduced as, “Here’s Uncle Gary and he’s going to take you”. And there was an exchange of money.’
Alec said that there were no ‘checks and balances’ and nobody signed anything or made a record – Uncle Gary simply took him to his flat and sexually abused him over the next few days. Then, one afternoon, they went to the beach.
‘He sent me down to have a swim and he was talking to these other two men, and there was a bit of pointing going on … and it was that particular point where I kind of overcame my fear of being alone and not under adult supervision versus these three guys discussing something and pointing at me. And having already been abused I just decided I was going to do anything rather than stay there.’
Alec knew that his mother’s family lived in the area so he ran away and searched the streets until he found their house. He said, ‘I must have looked a sight. Something out of Dickens, probably’. He stayed with the family for about a week. After that the powers-that-be decided that he was ‘beyond redemption’ and sent him to a boarding school run by Catholic Brothers. Alec said, ‘I went from the frying pan into the fire’.
Some of the Brothers were sexually abusive, ‘some were simply violent and some were both’. In a written statement, Alec described how the dorm master, Brother Shaun, would, ‘walk up and down the beds after the lights had gone out. If he saw a boy moving he would sit on their bed, take off their bedclothes and fondle their genitals’.
During the holidays one time, Alec mentioned some general things to his grandmother about Brother Shaun’s ‘bed checks’.
‘My grandmother was a staunch Catholic – you know, “priests and Brothers can do no evil” sort of thing. Nevertheless, after those holidays I found myself in a different school and I was then staying with my grandmother for a while.’
Over the next couple of years Alec bounced between about six different schools. But eventually he was sent back to boarding school. Brother Shaun was still working as the dorm master and still conducting his ‘night checks’. One day Alec reported his behaviour to the rector.
‘I guess I kind of reached the point where I wanted to know what this concept of sinning was all about. And I guess I felt I was going to be smart and ask a reasonable question instead of a kiddie’s question.’
Before he had even finished his opening sentence the rector backhanded him so hard that he fell backwards off the verandah.
‘I guess that’s where you learn: don’t ask serious questions.’
Over the next few years, Brother Shaun continued to abuse the boys. During that time, Alec was also sexually abused by two priests and one of the older boys. At 17 he decided that he couldn’t face another day at the school and refused to go back.
He moved in with his aunty and got an apprenticeship. After a short while he dropped out and ‘went from one useless job to the next’. Then, in his mid-20s, ‘I put myself together and realised I better do something’. He learned a technical trade and began what turned out to be a successful career.
Alec has never reported the perpetrators to police. He has tried several times to lodge a complaint with the Catholic Church but said that he always gets ‘fobbed off’. He said he doesn’t trust the Church to deal fairly with victims of child sexual abuse and he wants to see the whole complaints process reformed.
‘I spent a good number of years in an organisation that virtually tortured children. If you can get compensation for being in an accident then you can get compensation for being in something like this. There’s got to be a way of doing it that negates the Church’s fight, because otherwise it’ll go for 20 years and we’ll all die and the Church will rub its hands together and continue.’